Likely Stories: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

May 22, 2014

Books, reading, bookstores, mystery, and romance – Who could ask for anything more? 


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

When it comes to literary fiction, I have three preferences: novels about English Professors, books and bookstores, and novels from Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.  The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin encompasses all of these items. 

According to her website, “Gabrielle Zevin’s writing career began at 14 years of age when an angry letter to her local newspaper about a Guns ‘n’ Roses concert resulted in a job as a music critic.  She has published several novels for adults and young people, and she has written about female soldiers in Iraq, mafia princesses, teenage girls in the afterlife, and the difficulties of loving one person over many years.  Her first novel, Elsewhere, has been translated into over 20 languages.  Fikry is her eighth novel, published in April of 2014.

A.J. Fikry suffers from the devastation of losing his wife in a tragic car accident, and seems to be slowly spiraling into alcoholism.  He half-heartedly runs “Island Books,” where he emphasizes literary fiction, and refuses to carry books he doesn’t like – even if they are popular best sellers.  One day, Amelia Loman, the book rep from Knightley Press makes the first call of her new job to Island Books.  A.J. has ignored the emails, because he did not recognize the name, so Amelia’s visit comes as a surprise.  He treats her rudely, and she leaves discouraged, but not before giving A.J. a copy of an old novel, which she loves.  Shortly after her visit, three things happen which change the course of A.J.’s life: he regrets his rudeness to Amelia; his prized possession a first edition of the extremely rare book of poems by Edgar Allen Poe, Tamerlane is stolen; and someone abandons a toddler in the store.  A.J. begins bonding with the child, and when the body of a young woman washes up on the shore a few days later, the police discover the baby is her child.  A.J. adopts Maya, and his interests in life and the bookstore are reinvigorated.

One of the things I love about this book is the easy, conversational tone of the prose.  I felt as if I had begun an extended conversation about books and writing.  Maya quickly develops a love of reading.  Zevin writes, “The first way Maya approaches a book is to smell it.  She strips the book of its jacket, then holds it up to her face and wraps the boards around her ears” (82).  I have been a book smeller for a long time.

Maya becomes a rebellious teen, but she loves her Dad, and books, and writing.  Late in the novel, Maya and A.J. have a conversation.  He says, “‘Maya, there is only one word that matters […] We are what we love. […] We aren’t the things we collect, acquire, read.  We are, for as long as we are here, only love.  The things we loved.  The people we loved” (251).

Wise words, from a wise man.  The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, is a delightful read, thoroughly enjoyable, and a perfect book for a long Saturday afternoon.  5 stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  You can read my book blog at  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and HAPPY READING!